The current edition of SouthAsia magazine has a short report on occupational health and safety (OHS) in Bangladesh that illustrate the political and social challenges for workers and citizens in a country. The article, “Poor Workplace Safety” (not available online) states that government data for 2016 list more than 1,225 workers killed and over 500 injured. After these figures, and the fact that Bangladesh has a history of catastrophic workplace disasters, the author, Mohammad Waqar Bilal, states
“In fact, the issue of workers’ safety has never been considered by the government on a priority basis.”
Bilal writes that it is this lack of interest by the government that is exacerbating workplace risks through companies that “do not pay heed to the protection of labour rights” and the high employment rate causing workers to be more risk tolerant.
This article’s perspective is useful to remember when countries in the sub-content region have their next workplace catastrophe as will be inevitable if Bilal’s perception is correct. The next incident will create similar levels of outrage but probably with more anger based on frustration. However voicing outrage will be insufficient for affecting real change and a different strategy will be needed. Clothing boycotts seem to have had limited effect on the government to improve OHS enforcement, resources and regulations.
A different strategy is required, perhaps one with more tangible “shopfloor” change, or even high-profile political delegations specifically addressing labour rights, human rights and supply chain responsibility. What seems clear is that the traditional corporate social responsibilities (CSR) has failed. It is suggested this may be because of too narrow a focus on the corporate obligations rather than the broader social influencers.
“How many factory tragedies will it take before the Bangladeshi government ends its cozy relationship with powerful company owners and prioritizes worker safety?. …. Until Bangladesh regulates workplaces properly and gets serious about unsafe working conditions and those who create them, those on the factory floor will continue paying with their lives.”